Region 8 News Puts Smoke Detectors To The Test

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -- It can happen anywhere, anytime. They are costly, and they can be deadly. We're talking about house fires...and how you can get out alive.

"A majority of people don't die by fire. What it is, is the carbon monoxide in the smoke that gets to you and you just never wake up," Eric Simmons from the Jonesboro Fire Department.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2000-2004, a whopping 65% of home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or alarms that didn't work. They estimated nearly 900 lives could be saved each year if all homes had working smoke detectors. There is proof that smoke detectors save lives, but not all smoke detectors are created equal.

With help from the Jonesboro Fire Department we're putting two different type of smoke detectors to the test.

We have an ionization smoke alarm and a combination ionization/photoelectric smoke alarm. The ionization smoke alarm is the one the majority of us have in our homes. Ionization alarms react faster to open, flaming fires.  Photoelectric alarms react faster to slow, smoldering fires. First up, the commonly used ionization alarm. We put some foam in an aquarium, and set a soldering iron on top--to simulate a cigarette's contact with a piece of furniture. We secured the smoke alarm on top and waited. It doesn't take long for the smoke to thicken, and after one minute and 38 seconds the ionization alarm sounds.

"It just fills up and it goes everywhere in the whole home, and if you don't have anything to wake you up without that smoke detector you'd never know, and you would probably never wake up," said Simmons.

Next up, the ionization/photoelectric combination alarm..... using the same process, we secured this alarm and waited..... in less than a minute, the combination alarm sounds.

"It didn't seem like the aquarium had as much smoke in it as the first one, and yet it went off quicker," said Simmons.

This experiment was done in a controlled environment with the Jonesboro Fire Department assisting. In a real fire, smoke may not smolder in the same way and the alarms may not react the same way. An ionization alarm costs less than ten dollars. A combination alarm, the one that sounded in about half the time, is a bit more pricey at around 20 dollars.

"If you can only afford a ten dollar one, and eight dollar one, if you have to call the fire department and we bring you a free one that's what you need," said Simmons.

Fire officials say that's the most important thing to remember, is no matter how much you spend, make sure you have smoke detectors in your home. They also remind everyone a smoke detector is no good if it doesn't work.  Fire officials say check the battery, make sure the alarm works, it could be the difference between making it out of fire alive or not.

Fire officials say, ideally, it's best to have one detector in each bedroom.  If that's not feasible, one in a common hallway will suffice.  At least one needs to be in the living area, but not necessarily in the kitchen. That tends to cause false alarms during cooking.  In fact, the main reason most people disconnect their batteries or unhook their alarms is because of false alarms by cooking.  Also, if you live in the city limits of Jonesboro, the Jonesboro Fire Department will go out to your house and install the detector including a battery. It's all free of charge.

For more information on that service, contact the Jonesboro Fire Department at 932-2428